What do you get when you combine a NASA scientist and a roll of tape? If you guessed: a whole new X-ray mirror, you’d be right. You’d also maybe be a psychic.
Maxim Markevitch, a NASA optics expert, developed the new X-ray mirror, after seeing a role of tape. “I remember looking at a roll of Scotch tape and thinking, ‘was it possible to use the same design for capturing hard X-rays,’” Markevitch says in the press release. “I talked with a few people, and to my surprise, they didn’t see any principal reasons why it couldn’t be done.”
The reason tape seemed like a good choice, is because it can be stuck together and rolled up tight to make a rolled mirror. The idea is then to have that mirror collect X-rays. The press release explains why that’s not so easy.
To capture these ever-elusive photons, the mirrors must be curved and nested inside a cylindrical optical assembly. The rounded geometry allows the high-energy light to graze their surfaces, much like a stone skimming the surface of a pond.
So why X-rays? Well, this mirror would capture the faint X-rays that are emitted by things in space that we normally see with thermal imaging. “”There remains a large and totally unexplored discovery space of faint, diffuse nonthermal astrophysical objects emitting at high X-ray energies,” Markevitch said in the press release.
And this method of converting tape into mirrors could help to make X-ray astronomer far cheaper than it is now - a cost that is nearly prohibitive now that NASA’s budget is far smaller than it used to be.
No one knows whether the tape idea will work at a real scale, said will Zhang, a collaborator on the project, in the press release. “Maxim’s Scotch tape idea is in an early stage,” Zhang said. “In the next year, we will know whether it has a chance of working.”
Even if it doesn’t work, the tape to mirrors idea is yet another example of scientists getting inspiration from everyday objects.
Image: Credit: NASA/D. McCallum